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PostPosted: Wed Feb 12, 2020 7:27 pm 
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In my research of Francis O'Neill I came cross a remarkable passage. O'Neill has spent the night in the wreckage of the Iroquois Theater fire, a horrible catastrophe in which 600 people died. O'Neill himself helped disentangle the dead and charred bodies and in some cases, working by lantern light in thick smoke, pulled still-living people from under corpses piled five to eight feet high. Just awful.

He told reporters "If you ever saw a field of Timothy grass blown flat by the wind and rain of a summer storm, that was the position of the dead at the exits of the second balcony."

This to me is really remarkable, that he chose an image of grass blown down by summer storm and rain to described the charnel house scene of dead bodies what had been a lavish theater. The fire took place in late December, when the temperature outside was very cold. It seems to me he was tempering the memory by combining the pastoral image of wind blown grass with the grotesque memory of the dead in the theater.

Timothy grass is considered native to Ireland, and the internet also tells me it's called féar capaill in Irish, which I take to mean something like "horse grass." Timothy hay is certainly used for fodder and he very likely would have seen it growing on farms outside of Chicago, so it might not be an Irish thing.

So I'm just wondering is "Timothy" or Timothy grass or "timothy hay" an Irish "thing?" Is there reason to believe he was calling a specifically Irish memory to mind, or perhaps it was just a memory from his farm in the states


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 12, 2020 8:57 pm 
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Nothing specifically Irish about it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy-grass

But a remarkable image.

Andrew


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 12, 2020 11:46 pm 
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PB+J wrote:
So I'm just wondering is "Timothy" or Timothy grass or "timothy hay" an Irish "thing?" Is there reason to believe he was calling a specifically Irish memory to mind, or perhaps it was just a memory from his farm in the states

I'm disinclined to think that a Timothy grass analogy was in itself anything particularly Irish; the plant was already long naturalized in the States and a much-cultivated fodder crop even in that tail end of the horse-drawn era, so it would probably still have been widely known at the time, and putting the Windy City into the mix, you have an easy image. I do appreciate his rising above the too-easy cliché of cordwood, though. If O'Neill were of our time, he - or anyone, really - might have referred to Tunguska instead.

Anyway, them's my thoughts. YMMV.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 12:16 am 
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Reading that Wikipedia article, and also looking it up elsewhere, the name "Timothy grass" is clearly American in origin. I don't think the image is particularly Irish. That image of large areas of tall grass blown flat by summer storms seems much more American than Irish to me (although I've never been to the US, so what would I know?).

I had forgotten all about Tunguska ...

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 4:25 am 
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Yes according to everything I read it was a european native that was brought to the US in the colonial era.

It's striking partly because Chicago was SO heavily industrialized at the time--skyscrapers, the stockyards, grain elevators, streetcars and trains everywhere, and the theater would have been such a constructed, unnatural environment, and at that moment a nightmare of human ingenuity gone wrong. O'Neill was a farm boy and before he left Ireland one of his brothers had entered the cattle trade and was doing well, so there likely would have been grass grown for fodder and hay back in Tralibane before he left

But it's equally likely he would have seen it growing outside Chicago and he occasionally mentions going to a nearby farm. So it's not necessarily a recollection of Ireland.

I'm skeptical that it got it's name from a guy named timothy, but that sort of thing is hard to prove or disprove


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 5:25 am 
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I did a little more research and found about half a dozen instances of "timothy grass" being promoted in agricultural journals in ireland in the 19th century--recommending it as a hay crop and asserting that it was well suited for the irish climate and soils. Several describe it as introduced from the states and by a man named timothy hanson, but I still think it would have been called "Hanson grass."


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 3:08 pm 
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benhall.1 wrote:
That image of large areas of tall grass blown flat by summer storms seems much more American than Irish to me (although I've never been to the US, so what would I know?).

Although I've been a city mouse for ages now, up to young adulthood I lived in, or cheek-by-jowl with, agrarian areas enough to have a bit of a grasp of things, at least weather-wise; fields were often a stone's throw away, so you got to see firsthand how they fared. In the central US storms can be extraordinary, but even here flattened crops would be noteworthy; in all those years I'd never seen it myself, so while I assume the risk is statistically uncommon, all the same it's a well-known possibility.

PB+J wrote:
Several describe [Timothy grass] as introduced from the states and by a man named timothy hanson, but I still think it would have been called "Hanson grass."

The reality is more nuanced. Timothy grass is actually native to Europe, and was unintentionally introduced to the New World by settlers. It was first described in 1711 by New Hampshire farmer John Hurd, and indeed for a time it was called "Hurd grass", but its present name is due to Timothy Hanson, also a farmer, widely promoting its intentional, monoculture cultivation in 1720 as a fodder crop, and the promotion took and spread even back to across the Pond. So you could say that if it were at all "introduced" to Ireland and the rest of Europe, it would be in calling attention to what was already under their noses, but prior to that not specifically cultivated as a resource in its own right.

Who knows why it wasn't called "Hanson grass" instead.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 5:06 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
benhall.1 wrote:
That image of large areas of tall grass blown flat by summer storms seems much more American than Irish to me (although I've never been to the US, so what would I know?).

Well, although I've been a city mouse for ages now, up to young adulthood I lived in, or cheek-by-jowl with, agrarian areas enough to have a bit of a grasp of things, at least weather-wise; fields were often a stone's throw away, so you got to see firsthand how they fared. In the central US storms can be extraordinary, but even here flattened crops are something we would take as noteworthy; in all those years I'd never seen it myself, so while I assume the risk is statistically uncommon, all the same it's a well-known possibility.

PB+J wrote:
Several describe [Timothy grass] as introduced from the states and by a man named timothy hanson, but I still think it would have been called "Hanson grass."

The reality is more nuanced. Timothy grass is actually native to Europe, and was unintentionally introduced to the New World by settlers. It was first described in 1711 by New Hampshire farmer John Hurd, and indeed for a time it was called "Hurd grass", but its present name is due to Timothy Hanson, also a farmer, widely promoting its intentional, monoculture cultivation in 1720 as a fodder crop, and the promotion took and spread even back to across the Pond. So you could say that if it were at all "introduced" to Ireland and the rest of Europe, it would be in calling attention to what was already under their noses, but prior to that not specifically cultivated as a resource in its own right.

Who knows why it wasn't called "Hanson grass" instead.


Yes I pointed out in my first post that it's native to Ireland, and was introduced to the US. The in the 19th century it is re-introduced specifically as a fodder crop. In one of his accounts of his departure from Ireland O'Neill mentions that one of his brothers had "investment in stock and cattle dealing [in the 1850-60s], a course later well justified since he made a rapid fortune.” So at some point his brother was in the cattle business, and it's in the same time when agricultural journals are promoting Timothy grass as fodder.

It's mostly speculation. By the time of the fire O'Neill had published his first collection of tunes and ireland was very much on his mind


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 5:13 pm 
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PB+J wrote:
Yes I pointed out in my first post that it's native to Ireland, and was introduced to the US.

Right, and that's why I tackled the mistaken idea - with the understanding that it wasn't yours - that Timothy grass was introduced to Ireland. It's often hard for me to let things go unanswered; I go on the assumption that some people will read threads selectively and miss the greater context, for - unfortunately - the posting record has time and again proven this assumption to be all too well-founded.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2020 8:30 am 
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[aside] I find it interesting that two of the most commonly grown hay crops are timothy and alfalfa, which are totally unrelated. We have enough small mammals that we get bales. I once got a bale of alfalfa from a friend of my boss. We learned that we couldn't feed our rodents or lagomorphs alfalfa exclusively because (being a legume) it's too high in protein. So we had to get a bale of timothy and mix the two.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2020 8:56 am 
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O'Neill seems to have been something of a naturalist, though he didn't leave a lot of written record. When he retires from the police he wants to go to his farm in Palos Illinois and "live according to my ideals" like he's thoreau or count tolstoy or something. But some accounts from his grandaughter mention that he had detailed knowledge of plants or paid close attention to plants.

Life in Chicago must have made a farm boy nostalgic. O'Neill lives in conditions of terrible pollution and bad water and poor public sanitation. In the Sierra Nevada foothills he says he slept without a roof over his head fro four months. But he also wrote a lot that suggested he loved the possibilities of the city.


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